ROUND SIX in the TAC Cup competition kicks off tomorrow and for this round’s previews, we’ve had a look at a key factor in each match and analysed what we know. It might be a certain playmaker, a one-off disappointing quarter or a tantalising set of match-ups, here are some things to consider heading into the weekend’s action.
WESTERN JETS v. GEELONG FALCONS
Saturday, May 12, 11am
Williamstown Football Ground, Williamstown
When Western and Geelong clash, you know you are likely to get a heavily contested, high-clearance game. Sam Walsh, Oscar Brownless, Brayden Ham, Baxter Mensch and Ed McHenry going head to head with Connor Thar, Xavier O’Halloran, Jaden Rice, Daly Andrews and Zak Butters. We compared the midfields in the areas of disposals, clearances, contested possessions and goals, averaged by the number of games those midfields had played (Geelong – 21, Western – 25). As evidenced in the chart, Geelong averages slightly more disposals and gets more goals from its midfielders – admittedly helped by Ham’s nine so far this season – while Western has the clear edge in clearances and just shades the Falcons in contested ball. Of course this is not the full story as more than just five players rotate through the midfield, but just comparing the top fives, it is an intriguing battle.
Geelong has looked impressive the last fortnight and has been building for some time. With McHenry returning for this match, as well as Connor Idun, the Falcons will head into the match as favourites, but if Western can topple them in the clearances, then they are every chance of causing an upset. Up forward, both teams have varied methods of piling on winnable scores, with Blake Schlensog a key contributor inside 50, while for Western, Emerson Jeka, Aaron Clarke and Steven Kyriazis provide three different types of forwards that cause headaches for opposition teams.
In defence, Stefan Radovanovic provides plenty of run and carry for the Jets and he might be one that Geelong look to nullify to ensure the ball remains inside their forward 50, but Western’s defence is among the best with the midfielders dropping back and rotating with the defenders. Buku Khamis and Hamish Murphy provide strong defence in the key position roles, while Cooper Cartledge has been consistent for Geelong.
DANDENONG STINGRAYS v. EASTERN RANGES
Saturday, May 12, 2pm
Shepley Oval, Dandenong
There’s nothing quite like travelling to one of the most in-form teams in the competition’s home ground when you’re yet to record a win. For the Eastern Ranges, they will be seeing this as a chance to not only grab their first four points of the season, but throw a complete spanner in the works against a side which until its loss last week, had looked almost untouchable with a combined 225-point winning margin in the fortnight prior. Eastern will be aware of the challenge the match poses, but there is nothing quite like a team with its back against the wall and given little chance of victory. Eastern has thrown around the magnets at the selection table and will be keen to make a big statement in 2018 with a win here.
The challenge will be to kick a big enough score to trouble the Stingrays. Of the nine players named in their respective 22s that have kicked three or more goals this season, eight of those players are Stingrays. Joel Burleigh leads the Ranges goal kicking (five goals) after his phenomenal effort of 40-plus disposals last week included three majors. For the Ranges to win, they must continue to tackle hard and win the contested ball and try and keep the ball off Dandenong’s runners.
Zac Foot stands as a crucial player for Dandenong because of his slick skills, lightning speed and ability to hit the scoreboard. As the graphic (left) shows, Foot has been deadly with his disposals, and able to get the ball inside 50. He has also booted 9.4 this season with six score assists to make him one of the most damaging outside players so far this season. His 19 score involvements see him ranked fifth overall in the TAC Cup.
For Eastern, the Ranges’ defence is strong, and will need to be aware of the pace and speed of Foot and other Stingrays who could cause a threat. The likes of Ben Cardamone or Kye Quirk could be given the job on Foot, while also looking to slingshot the visitors off half-back.
NORTHERN KNIGHTS v. MURRAY BUSHRANGERS
Saturday, May 12, 2pm
Preston City Oval, Preston
Northern returns to its spiritual home at Preston to take on a red-hot Murray Bushrangers outfit. The Bushrangers have won the past four games since a shock loss to Gippsland Power in round one. Murray now sits equal top with four wins from five games, while Northern had an unlucky away draw to the Power a couple of rounds back, and sit in seventh. A win here could see them jump as high as fifth and continue the improved form they have shown over the past month. With Jake Bradshaw and Nick Murray among the key ins for Murray and the likes of Cameron Wild and Kareem Nasser back for the Knights, it will be interesting to see how the game goes down. The key to this game depends on how Northern can limit Murray’s scoring impact. The Bushrangers do not have a dedicated key forward dominating the goals – although Hudson Garoni has been super in his own right the past fortnight – instead they have a number of players across the ground that can influence the scoreboard with a couple of goals a game and share the load.
In the five rounds thus far, the Murray Bushrangers have had 169 score involvements compared to the Northern Knights’ 128 – equivalent of almost eight more score involvements per game. This has helped them share the load and bring an air of unpredictability to the forward line which has created headaches for opposition defences. However, the Knights have brought the defensive pressure this season, laying 303 tackles so far to Murray’s 261. While it might be put down to getting to the ball first, Northern have been good at limiting the influence of some of the key opposition playmakers.
As an example in the draw with Gippsland, Matthew McGannon who had averaged 28 disposals, 10 marks and 4.7 rebounds in the opening three rounds in that quarterback role for the Power. Against the Knights, McGannon managed just 18 disposals, four marks and one rebound. For the Bushrangers, their “quarterback” is bottom-ager Lachlan Ash who has provided some superb drive off half-back and broken the lines to ensure a fast break transition from defence to offence. From the Power game, Northern know the importance of the player in that role, and likewise for the Bushrangers, ensuring the likes of Ash is free remains a key component in the game.
CALDER CANNONS v. BENDIGO PIONEERS
Saturday, May 12, 4.30pm
RAMS Arena, Craigieburn
In the Saturday evening game, Calder Cannons look to bounce back from their third loss of the season, hosting the Bendigo Pioneers who have gone four consecutive rounds without a win. For Calder, the crucial statistic is the inside 50s. in all bar one game (against Eastern Ranges) the Cannons have conceded more inside 50s than they have created, thus giving their opponents more chance of creating a winning score. Their defence holds up well, but restricting the flow into their defensive 50 would be highlighted in the changerooms prior to the game. Co-captain Jack Bytel stands as a key player in the match for Calder, with the Cannons averaging 34 clearances per game with Bytel in the side and just 24 in the game he missed – against Sandringham Dragons. Bendigo’s strength lies in the clearances with Noah Wheeler (20) and Liam Marciano (15) the next two highest behind Bytel.
For the visitors, they tend to be a long kicking team and break the lines through penetrating kicks rather than quick-fire handballs. Hunter Lawrence (20), Bailey Henderson (17) and Wheeler (15) all average more than three effective long kicks per game and Lawrence and Henderson average 68 and 67 per cent by foot respectively. For Calder, Lucas Cavallaro and Jack Evans are Calder’s good ball users off half-back, often playing against talls and smalls, while creating good rebound. This is the area we will compare as it is likely to be another crucial component in the game. As you can see on the left, Henderson’s midfield minutes helps the Pioneers duo have more disposals and tend to kick long more often, however the Calder pair has more marks and more rebounds, crucially assisting in spring-boarding their attacks off half-back. All four are great users of the ball and players their teammates look to in order to deliver the more difficult pass by foot.
GIPPSLAND POWER v. SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS
Sunday, May 13, 1pm
Morwell Football Ground, Morwell
The first game on Sunday is the clash between the Gippsland Power and Sandringham Dragons. The Dragons have slipped since losing their APS players and now find themselves at an even win-loss ledger of 3-3. For the Power, they are just two points outside the top three sides and are having a fantastic start to the season with just the one defeat and one draw so far. At home, the Power will be keen to make the most of a depleted Dragons outfit and continue to push on after another great win in round five against the Eastern Ranges. Bailey Smith is a huge loss for the visitors, but Liam Stocker and Dawit McNeish add some important grunt in the midfield thus the Dragons should never be ruled out from an upset victory.
Of the pair, Liam Stocker looms as an underrated first round pick. He has played just the three games due to school football, but has been a shining light in the matches he has played, with great numbers across the ground and good defensive pressure. He uses it well by foot and wins more than half of his possessions in a contest, making his 66.2 per cent disposal efficiency even more impressive.
For Gippsland, the Power have a number of quality midfielders who will be looking to match the likes of Stocker and McNeish in the middle. Riley Baldi has been important around the stoppages, and captain Xavier Duursma has made an impact off the wing. The returning Austin Hodge along with the likes of Nick Lowden and Boadie Motton shows off the depth Gippsland has, as well as bottom-age talents in Brock Smith and Caleb Serong who can rotate through the centre square. The contest might loom as one Gippsland will be favourites for, but Sandringham will be hoping its next tier of players can stand up and cause an upset away from home.
GREATER WESTERN VICTORIA REBELS v. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS
Sunday, May 13, 1pm
MARS Stadium, Ballarat
In the final game of the round, two teams with vastly different formlines and ladder positions face off. The Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels have won just one of their first five games, while Oakleigh has just dropped the one match – to a Max King-inspired Sandringham Dragons. Last week the Chargers knocked off the previously unbeaten Dandenong Stingrays, however the Rebels took it up to Murray Bushrangers who join Oakleigh at 4-1 on the TAC Cup competition ladder. The Chargers have lost some crucial players to school football including Ben Silvagni and Joseph Ayton-Delaney, while the Rebels have rolled the dice with some more young players including debutants and some named as emergencies.
The biggest question mark for the Rebels by far is whether they can keep up their intensity across four quarters. Often in games for the most part, their fourth quarters have let them down this season, conceding 23.16 (154) to 6.5 (41) – a 22-point differential average across five games. They have also been down in the second term, but that was largely due to Dandenong’s heavy onslaught in round three. Otherwise, the Rebels have started games relatively well, leading at quarter time in two of them, including the unbelievable start against the Falcons in round one, to be their best quarter on record. Their third quarters are also in the positive.
For Oakleigh, their third quarters have been relatively fruitful aside from the Sandringham match, booting 15.18 (108) to 9.7 (63) in the “premiership quarter”. But it is their second quarters which which have been the most dominant, heading into round six with a 64-point differential in the terms across the year thus far.
GWV will look to its prime movers in Scott Carlin, Lochie Dawson, Matt Schnerring, Jed Hill and Charlie Wilson through the midfield to try to eradicate its final quarter drop-offs. On paper, the Rebels have a strong side against a Chargers outfit missing a number of top players to school football. The Rebels must be proactive at the stoppages and slow the play down later in the game to avoid opposition teams getting a run on. The Chargers will no doubt be aware of the Rebels last quarters and if they are within reach at the final break, will be keen to run over the top of them, or put the foot down. Watch out for the in-form Riley Collier-Dawkins, Xavier O’Neill and Isaac Quaynor to keep the Chargers up and about throughout the match.